It isn’t usually obvious, but our fluffy, feathered and otherwise four-legged friends get just as sore and stiff as their humans do. And when their muscles scream and their joints grumble, one Utah woman is there to soothe them.
Mary Norton has been practicing pet massage for three years. It started when she learned the basics of massage from her mother’s osteopath. Although she liked learning, she knew she didn’t have the stamina, at 50 years old, to become a licensed massage therapist. Shortly after that, one of her elderly rescue dogs began having life-threatening problems.
“She was having severe trouble maneuvering the stairs and getting outside to do her business,” said Norton. “One day I noticed she was having trouble getting up.”
Not wanting to euthanize her pet, Norton decided to put some of her training into practice.
“I very, very gently massaged her back legs as I would for a person, though I didn’t use near the strength,” she said. After a few tries, her dog was up and walking again.
“That’s when I decided to see if there was such a thing as pet massage,” said Norton. After looking online, she discovered a correspondence school called Effective PetMassage. Four months and several hours of working on dogs and cats under their owners’ supervision, she had her certification.
So how, exactly, does a pet massage work? The answer, says Norton, is a lot like a massage for humans. The motions and strokes are virtually identical, but the pressure is not.
“The amount needed for an animal is minute by [human] standards,” she explained. “I tell people who want to get into this to put a nickle on the back of their hand and feel how much pressure that is. It’s not much. It’s extremely light. It’s a type of thing that I could turn around, take you for an hour and teach you to do it on your own animal.”
That is, as long as your pets are cats or dogs, which are the only animals that someone who does pet massage are allowed to work on. The difference, said Norton, between a certified pet massage practitioner like her and a licensed animal massage therapist is that LAMTs are licensed massage therapists (that is, trained to work on humans) and trained to work on a number of animals, from tiny guinea pigs to cows and horses. And while LAMTs typically work with orthopedic pet hospitals, vets or pet groomers, pet massage practitioners tend to work independently.
And they also tend to do house calls. Norton will travel anywhere within the Salt Lake Valley to give a cat or dog a much-needed rub down.
“I feel it’s easier on everyone,” she explained. “It’s certainly better for the animal who is surrounded by things they know. You’re only reducing one strange thing, and that’s me.”
When working, Norton makes sure that the pet’s people are nearby so the pet can relax better. When it comes to cats, who are notoriously skittish around strangers, she typically prefers to coach an owner to do it him or herself. She offers one-hour training sessions to people with cats or dogs for $50.
And while Norton says all cats and dogs can benefit from a good massage, she specifically enjoys working with animals who are elderly, injured or recovering from surgery.
“I love working with older animals to give them a new lease on life, as it were,” she said.
Norton’s sessions are all 30 minutes long and her fees range from $25 for cats and small dogs to $45 for large dogs. To learn more about her work visit Facebook and search for 4Ur4Paws Massage. Norton will also appear on 4LeggedForum, a local internet radio show about pets, on Aug. 27 from 1:30–2:30 p.m. The show can be accessed at blogtalkradio.com/4leggedforum.